30 November 2001

How to produce even cattle df

In the aftermath of foot-and-

mouth, with a likely

tightening of movement

restrictions, sending two or

three cattle for slaughter at

a time may no longer be

economic. But one

Herefordshire producer is

working on a solution.

Marianne Curtis reports

PRECISE mixed rationing is producing even cattle, so batches of up to 40 can be sent for slaughter at the same time: A prospect unthinkable less than a year ago on Robert Mannings Hill Farm near Castle Frome.

As well as minimising movements – for which licence applications remain a tiresome process for many – large batches of cattle also find favour with abattoirs keen to plan how many beasts of a certain type will be slaughtered on a particular day.

"Going into yards and picking three cattle ready for slaughter at a time is becoming impractical. Recent lorry loads of finished cattle leaving the unit have contained 38-40 head," says Mr Manning.

The secret of producing even cattle ready for slaughter on the same day lies in rationing, he believes. "Last February I bought a second-hand diet feeder. Until then, I was sceptical about whether finishing 150 head of cattle a year justified investment in a mixed rationing system. But improvements in conformation and fat grades, as well as more even cattle, have convinced me of the benefits."

Previously, winter rationing of Aberdeen Angus X and Hereford X Holstein Friesian steers on Mr Mannings 200ha (500 acre) mixed farm involved feeding a cereal and soya mix twice a day and round bale silage. "Now I question how efficient this approach is for optimising rumen function – something the dairy industry began to query some years ago."

Concentrates and forage are mixed together in the feeder wagon and offered as complete diets from 200kg liveweight, adjusted for age and weight by a Keenan nutritionist. A typical grower diet contains 14.5kg of 11.9 ME grass silage, 0.5kg chopped straw, 2kg rolled wheat, 2kg rolled oats, 0.8kg soya and minerals, costing 69p/head/day, says Mr Manning.

In finisher diets, costing 89p/head/day, protein levels are cut and starch levels increased by including more cereal to produce daily liveweight gains of 1.4kg.

Although cattle are bedded with straw, Mr Manning believes adding chopped straw to rations improves intakes and makes the rumen work harder.

"Cattle also seem content on the mixed ration. They have food in front of them all the time, which alleviates stress because there is no rushing to feed barriers twice a day."

It also removes the effect of dominant cattle which ate more than others under the old system, resulting in uneven growth within batches, he adds.

Cattle spend their first summer at grass, necessary to qualify them for the Waitrose scheme, but receive supplementary feed from mid-July to avoid growth set backs as grass quality declines. "They are housed in October or earlier, depending on the weather," says Mr Manning.

Calves for the system are sourced through Quality Calves, which Mr Manning says is soon to merge with Meadow Valley Livestock.

"We take delivery of calves from dairy farms when they are three months old. These cost about £220/head, which allows rearers to make a reasonable margin."

This year, however, F&M movement restrictions have made sourcing calves difficult and Mr Manning is running fewer cattle than usual. "We are down to 60 head, although we plan to increase numbers now restrictions are easing.

"But I am concerned beef cross calf supplies from the national dairy herd will be dramatically reduced. No AI took place on farms for four months earlier this year and with only 48% of dairy farms having a bull, this will be reflected in a deficit of calves. The major worry is this gap could be filled by imports which is the last thing British beef producers need."

Mixed rationing is helping to produce more consistent beef cattle on Robert Mannings unit in Herefordshire.